Archive for Books & Films

First as tragedy, then as farce

The story I linked Monday about Michael Kirby’s comments spurring the U.N. to action in North Korea eventually grew into two posts, because in the same story, Kirby also warned against trivializing what’s happening in North Korea.

The Commission of Inquiry, which reported to the UN in March, detailed horrific abuses of human rights in North Korea, including starving political prisoners reduced to eating grass and rodents in secret gulags, schoolchildren made to watch firing squad executions, and women forced to drown their own babies to uphold racial purity laws.

Justice Kirby compared the actions of the North Korean regime to a modern-day Holocaust, and he warned against treating North Korea as a quirky, oddball regime.

“Please do not think North Korea is a cuddly, cute sort of a case, with a leader with a bad haircut who is nonetheless loveable and is going to go in the right direction because he’s a young man. This is not a situation where a young person is going to bring a new broom, if his is a new broom it is a violent new broom. Things have not improved.”

I suppose Justice Kirby was talking about films like “The Interview” and the Dennis Rodman parody “Diplomats,” neither of which I’ve seen. Based on the description of the plot premise, it’s clear to me that “Diplomats” is too stupid to have much redeeming artistic merit, and will almost certainly trivialize a terrible tragedy. It deserves, frankly, to be the object of a boycott, but as North Korea has learned, protests like these often backfire — just like Dennis Rodman’s birthday serenade did. The learner’s-permit demographic that films like “Diplomats” target are unmoved by moral and philosophical arguments, and by standards of taste.

If you filled a thimble with everything Dennis Rodman knew about North Korea last year, there would still be room for everything Dennis Rodman remembers about North Korea this year. Rodman has suggested, probably seriously, that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for his addlebrained adventures in North Korea. Most people dismissed this as farce, but to be fair, Rodman may (however inadvertently) have done as much to bring Pyongyang’s crimes against humanity into the global consciousness as Kirby’s carefully documented report.

That is both good and a sad comment on the state of our media and human rights watchdogs today. The sadder comment is that no watchdog, no global law-giver, no son of Korea in any position of global leadership, and no Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader of any nation, indispensable or otherwise, has lifted more than a token finger to press for action on the findings of the COI’s report, so far. The people of North Korea have been forgotten for decades. All indications are that in September, the General Assembly will send Justice Kirby’s report to the Security Council. All indications also suggest that after 48 hours of page four news, the U.N. will have forgotten it by the end of October.

My expectations for “The Interview” are almost as low. “The Interview,” however, benefits from much promotional assistance from the North Korean government. With its impeccable talent for irony, North Korea’s official “news” service, KCNA, printed a statement by the Foreign Ministry that called the film “terrorism,” accused the United States of “bribing a rogue movie maker to dare hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK,” and threatened “to mercilessly destroy anyone who dares hurt or attack the supreme leadership of the country even a bit.” It concluded, “Those who defamed our supreme leadership and committed the hostile acts against the DPRK can never escape the stern punishment to be meted out according to a law wherever they might be in the world.”

North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. KCNA and the Associated Press signed two still-undisclosed memoranda of agreement in 2011, under which they agreed to cooperate in their reporting of “news” from North Korea.

Thankfully, Pyongyang still hasn’t learned that the best way to censor speech in America is violence — say, summoning mobs into the streets, sacking our embassies, and killing our diplomats. Do that, and our President will go on TV to apologize to the mobs for the very existence of free speech, we’ll jail the heretics who offend you, and our own government will be your vicarious censor. (This is the real Benghazi scandal — and the Republicans can’t see that.)

As with the U.N.’s greater interest in objectively lesser crises, parodies of North Korea also raise the question of double standards. Can you imagine someone making a spoof film about Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or even Gaza? (Not that anyone should.) How many decades passed before a film like “Inglorious Basterds” could be made?

This isn’t to say that North Korea shouldn’t be parodied (it should be), or even that the parodies must be tasteful (the good ones seldom are). What I suppose I am saying is that artistic judgments are balancing tests that weigh what makes a work distasteful against what makes it important. I struggled with that balance in my judgments of films like “Borat” (very funny and thought-provoking, but even more distasteful) and “Team America” (distasteful, but funny and profanely profound). The moral risks of failing that test are greater if the work’s effect is to blunt our sense of outrage.

The truth, of course, is that Justice Kirby deserves the Nobel Prize, and deserves to be the subject of a serious nomination campaign for both himself and his fellow Commissioners. Perhaps that campaign would give one of our world’s great institutions, or their so-called leaders, a small twinge of responsibility to act.

If, in the end, the world is only capable of answering tragedy with farce, it least it should be good farce. It ought to be better a better farce than “Diplomats,” and diplomats.

Please buy Don Kirk’s new book on Okinawa and Jeju

A few weeks ago, it was my pleasure to meet up with Don Kirk for beers at the Press Club. Don was kind enough to give me a copy of his new book. I’ve only had time to poke through it so far, but it does (as you would expect) a comprehensive job of discussing the politics of military basing on both islands, each with its own history of conflict and controversy.


Don asked me to give it a plug, and I’m happy to oblige. Here’s the back cover blurb:


For those in the Pentagon, or who are serving in that area with the armed forces, this is something you’ll definitely want to read. It’s awfully expensive in hard cover, so you may want to buy it for your kindle, or use the kindle app (which I liked very much).

“Secret State of North Korea,” on PBS’s Frontline, Tuesday, January 14th

On Tuesday January 14th, PBS’s Frontline will air a one-hour program about the North Korea most foreign journalists aren’t allowed to see: Secret State of North Korea.

Not only are North Koreans illegally smuggling information from inside North Korea out, a growing cohort of defectors are risking their lives to get information about the outside world in.

“Pretty quickly, what surprised me the most wasn’t the poverty and poor conditions people live in—which are, undoubtedly, shocking,” says FRONTLINE director James Jones. “It was the ordinary North Koreans who were standing up to authority.”

And doing so at great risk to themselves. 

That web page includes a brief trailer. You may recognize the footage as the work of the guerrilla cameramen of Asia Press’s Rimjingang. The men who took these images risked their lives to show you what you will see on that program.

For those living in the Washington area, the program airs at 10 p.m. on WETA, channel 26. Here’s a link for a listing in other parts of the U.S.

Upcoming Events: “The Defector” Screenings, and EAHR’s online round table

I’D PREVIOUSLY POSTED ABOUT two new documentaries about how the real North Korea — the one behind the facade — is changing. One of these, The Defector, will be screened this week at two separate events in Washington. If you’re in the area, I hope you can make it.


I OWE AN APOLOGY to the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, which asked me to post about their online seminar on advocating for human rights in North Korea, and which I then completely forgot to do. Fortunately, their previous December 2nd event is on YouTube, and a second seminar is coming up next week.


New documentaries show how N. Korea is changing, despite Kim Jong Un

Two new documentaries on North Korea are promising us brave and original journalism about life in North Korea, as the vast majority of North Koreans somehow live it.

A long-time reader writes to tell me that the Heritage Foundation will be screening a new documentary, “The Defector,” on December 5th, at 5:30 p.m., and that Shin Dong Hyok will be in attendance. Here is how the film’s website describes it:

Dragon is a human smuggler who leads North Korean defectors across borders for a living. His latest undercover trip with Sook-Ja and Yong-hee takes an unexpected turn when they are left stranded in China, putting their dramatic escape plan into question. Their perilous journey reflects the reality of tens of thousands of North Koreans currently in hiding in China. Filmed undercover by a Korean-Canadian filmmaker, Ann Shin gets intimate access with these three individuals in this POV film and explores universal questions about human rights, smuggling and the pursuit of freedom.

The film’s producer is Korean-Canadian Ann Shin, who profiles the film and adds a trailer at this New York Times blog. You can see more here, and a Yahoo News report here. The previews suggest that human traffickers are stepping in to fill the void created by a system of international law that has broken down in the face of China’s intransigence.

There is another new film that I hope readers will help me watch out for — “Life Inside the Secret State,” produced by Jiro Ishimaru, the man behind the guerrilla cameras of Rimjingang. Life Inside the Secret State focuses on the tough North Korean women who are the reluctant agents of broad economic, social, and even political change in North Korea. This post carries a discussion between Ishimaru and Rajiv Narayan of Amnesty International:

“I was genuinely struck by those women…it’s so satisfying to see these individuals [having the] self confidence to stand up to authority. . . . Women for the first time ever are the people who are going to the market and earning a living, so they’ve become the people pushing the boundaries of these changes.”

You can read reviews here, here, and here. If anyone hears word that this film will be screened in the Washington area, kindly drop me a line.

For all the whining I do about dull, uninformative, pretentious minder-guided reporting from Pyongyang, I feel doubly obligated to support journalism and filmmaking that show courage and take real, physical risks to tell us the truth. I hope you’ll seek these films out, see them, tell your friends, and tell me what you thought about them.

Review: Treasury’s War, by Juan Zarate

Let me begin with an apology for the lack of posting lately. While tossing a football around with some friends, I took a direct head-on hit to that finger you need for typing words that contain the letters “l” or an “o,” which turn out to be less dispensable than you might think. The time I didn’t spend typing, I spent reading instead:

Treasury's War cover

[clicking the image takes you to Amazon]

If you want to understand why the Banco Delta Asia action worked so well, how financial sanctions bankrupted al Qaeda, and how they’re bankrupting Iran today, you have to read this book. If you’re reading this site, however, the odds are you’re interested in what Zarate has to say in chapters 9 and 10, where he writes about North Korea, Banco Delta Asia, and Chris Hill.

Zarate, who is usually effusive in his praise for the people he worked with in government, clearly has no use for Hill. Hill comes off looking like a boorish, incompetent asshole who, despite repeated explanations of how Section 311 worked, either didn’t grasp the concept or didn’t care. According to Zarate, Hill’s minions reduced Daniel Glaser to tears by bullying him into simply switching off the section 311 action–and its downstream effects–almost instantly, which is a lot like asking Treasury to instantly give North Korea a new reputation for honest financial dealings with a banking “ecosystem” that’s extremely concerned about reputations and access to correspondent accounts in U.S. banks and dollar-clearing through New York.

Readers of this site already know that I’m no fan of Chris Hill. I’ve written extensively about how Hill played fast and loose with the truth when he sold his deal to Congress in 2007. Two years later, after his deal with Kim Jong Il had collapsed under the weight of its own suspended disbelief, Hill was eventually confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, but only after a bitter confirmation fight. After just 16 months in office, Hill retired, having failed to broker a new Iraqi government or to negotiate a suitable status of forces agreement (and you’d think a guy like Hill could have closed a deal if he wanted one badly enough), and with his relations with U.S. military commanders strained.

I’ve already told you that Zarate’s book is indispensable (it’s also a fun read) but I do have two criticisms. First, his treatment of the SWIFT network as sacrosanct, and his implicit criticism of Section 220 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 reads like a set of SWIFT talking points. Zarate worries about U.S. laws and EU regulations that forced SWIFT to cut off certain Iranian banks, and wonders how far down this slippery slope we’d go to sanction other countries.

I agree that SWIFT should be commended for helping Treasury after 9/11, and that The New York Times shouldn’t have outed SWIFT for doing it. But SWIFT has significant business operations located in the United States, and it derives significant benefits from the security of our country and the health of our financial system. By Zarate’s admission, SWIFT took the actions it took in 2001 because it knew it would not prevail if Treasury served it with subpoenas for financial information. Should SWIFT be forced to stop financial messaging services to every country that gets low marks for human trafficking or anti-money laundering countermeasures? Clearly not. But when some supranational authority demands countermeasures against specific banks known to be involved in proliferation or money laundering, SWIFT shouldn’t be exempt, either, particularly given that by its nature, SWIFT doesn’t know the purpose of the transactions it facilitates. Here’s paragraph 11, from UNSCR 2094:

Decides that Member States shall, in addition to implementing their obligations pursuant to paragraphs 8 (d) and (e) of resolution 1718 (2006), prevent the provision of financial services or the transfer to, through, or from their territory, or to or by their nationals or entities organized under their laws (including branches abroad), or persons or financial institutions in their territory, of any financial or other assets or resources, including bulk cash, that could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, including by freezing any financial or other assets or resources on their territories or that hereafter come within their territories, or that are subject to their jurisdiction or that hereafter become subject to their jurisdiction, that are associated with such programmes or activities and applying enhanced monitoring to prevent all such transactions in accordance with their national authorities and legislation;

Zarate is otherwise pretty big on enforcing international norms and standards, and to be fair, Zarate’s manuscript was probably already with the publisher when this resolution passed. It’s hard to argue today that North Korean banks that have been specifically sanctioned by the U.N. itself, the EU, or the United States because of “credible information” about their proliferation should continue to receive messaging services without interruption. Maybe Zarate wouldn’t argue that now. I hope he wouldn’t. But even before that, we’d seen a long services of messages about the need for “countermeasures” against North Korea from the Financial Action Task Force.

My second criticism is of the opportunity Zarate misses at the end of his book when he calls for the government to help preserve and enhance our economic power. That’s especially unfortunate when Zarate’s explanation of that power and its importance were so effective. His last chapter and his epilogue introduce a series of important concepts concepts about trade, protectionism, technology, foreign investment, and the strength of the dollar, but unfortunately, and perhaps because of the editing process, those concepts aren’t explained or illustrated well, and I finished the book without understanding how more government intrusion would advance, rather than inhibit, our economic competitiveness. I hope that’s something Zarate will explain further, perhaps in a future edition.

(This chapter still stimulated much thought about other key networks, aside from the financial system, that run through the United States. Could the free flow of information through U.S.-based servers, or a cloud network, be another future power source? How about restricting the access to U.S. ports of cargoes originating from ports that fail to take their counter-proliferation or counter-terrorism responsibilities seriously?)

Treasury’s War won’t win any literary awards, but its simple and clear writing style is probably best for a topic this complex. The information, clear explanations, and illustrative examples make it required reading for any student of economics or foreign policy in this age. If you’re a North Korea watcher or congressional staffer who wants to understand how H.R. 1771 would work, and why its strategy is nothing at all like the old fashioned sanctions used against Saddam Hussein, read Zarate’s book (it’s also available on e-book).

I can’t wait to read this one: “Treasury’s War,” by Juan Zarate

I wonder if Amazon can deliver this while I still have an unexpected windfall of leisure time:

Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, plays the role of the bureaucrat. He joined the Treasury Department just weeks before the 2001 attacks to aid the agency’s enforcement wing. [....]

Treasury launched its most ambitious assault with this new weapon on a tiny bank in Macau. That bank, Banco Delta Asia (BDA), caught the department’s attention in 2003 for doing a hefty amount of business with North Korea. Classic sanctions, such as freezing individual bank accounts and forbidding commercial activity, had succeeded in isolating Pyongyang, but BDA, among others, helped the country stream its profits from illegal arms sales, money laundering and counterfeiting into the international financial system. In the most notable revelation of the book, Zarate recounts a chain reaction that no one predicted. Within two weeks of its September 2005 designation as a primary money laundering concern under Section 311, a hemorrhaging BDA shuttered all of its North Korean accounts and handed its administration to the Macau government. Fearing the North Korean taint, banks in financial hubs worldwide, and even North Korean ally China, ended business with North Korea.

The Kim regime initially dismissed the designation as yet another feckless sanction. But as its lifelines collapsed, it panicked. North Korean leaders refused to return to the six-party nuclear talks until Treasury, in Zarate’s words, removed “the scarlet letter from their reputation.” By designating BDA for its North Korean dealings, the United States exposed a raft of illegal North Korean financial activity, from money laundering to drug trafficking, that no bank wanted to be associated with.

The designation bought the United States real leverage with North Korea. But just when it could have waited for Pyongyang to flail its way into concessions, the administration folded. Zarate bitterly recalls watching from his new perch at the National Security Council as, without any North Korean compromise, the State Department badgered Treasury into reversing the action so as to kick-start the talks. By trying to “put the genie back in the bottle,” Zarate argues, Washington undermined its credibility and “cashed in on BDA too soon.” [Washington Post]

This sounds like the most engrossing read a person can possibly have without having to clear one’s browser history afterward. In fact, it’s exactly the strategy behind H.R. 1771, one of the worthier projects this Congress has taken on–and 1771 would be far more comprehensive and deadly than an action against one dirty little bank in Macau.

Hat tip to a reader.

I can’t stand watching this, but I hope millions of others can.

Sorry, I’m a father, and I couldn’t even make it through this trailer. Reading this has already traumatized me enough to make me start this site and document these places, and honestly, that’s already as much as I can take.

If you can’t stand it either, then send it to a friend. Until this ends.

“Escape from North Korea” Update

A PASSAGE IN “ESCAPE FROM NORTH KOREA” ties very recent events on Capitol Hill to a couple of fiskings I’d been saving for a special occasion. The update is here; scroll down.

“Escape from North Korea” Update


Escape from North Korea: An Incremental Review

Nov. 7, 2012.  Early in Melanie Kirkpatrick’s Escape from North Korea, you start to find powerful phrases that stay with you — phrases that make you stop reading and chew on them, to extract the full significance of some aspect of life in another reality.  I couldn’t help quoting two of them.  The first is illuminating:

So accustomed are North Koreans to the lack of light that when I asked a North Korean who had settled in an American city if there was anything she missed from home, she replied, “the darkness.”

The second is ghastly:

“I keep thinking, maybe he would still be alive if we hadn’t buried him,” the young man told the reporters in Washington. He didn’t want his name used, for fear of retribution against his family in North Korea. But he told us the name of the man he buried, and I record it here: Kim Young-jin.

On a related note, I saw this quote in a link from another review that registered in my comments:

Interestingly, Haggard’s research is quoted at multiple points in the text, while Stanton does not merit a mention by the author.

Oh, my.  This is more than just a passive-aggressive blog post; it’s a life lesson:  Just as a reader shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, a reviewer shouldn’t judge a book before he actually reads the last chapter (beginning with its title).  Let the rewrite commence!

Nov. 29, 2012

Another quote I can’t resist giving you, about one of Kirkpatrick’s interviews with an escaped North Korean:

After our own trip to the buffet, we began the interview. The subject of our conversation was starvation.

Further on, there is this passage:

A commonplace observation of North Koreans who reached China was that Chinese dogs ate better than North Korean humans. The hungry refugees marveled at watching dogs devour scraps that were more nutritious than anything they had seen for years. They also marveled at seeing dogs. In North Korea, most of the dogs had been eaten.

One senses that Kirkpatrick longed to write this book not only because she had a story to tell, but because she had the literary impulse in her to tell it well in clear, high-impact prose.

Kirkpatrick’s second chapter is about religion in North Korea, a topic she introduces early because it has two levels of impact on the subject matter.  You already know, of course, that religion motivates most of the underground railroad’s conductors, but the complete ignorance of North Koreans about Christianity means that their first contact with it is a particularly strong shock to their systems.  It must be especially so for people who’ve broken with a lifetime of spiritual indoctrination, and the regime must understand that.

Kirkpatrick closes her chapter with an anecdote about my friend Tim Peters, and it speaks volumes about modern South Korean society:

In Seoul, Peters made his pitch to an assembly of divinity students at Chongshin University. Chongshin’s famous divinity school was founded in Pyongyang in 1901 and relocated south during the Korean War. Today, its graduates disperse to the four corners of the world to preach the Gospel. One would think that the school’s roots in the North would give it a special interest in reaching out to North Koreans. That was not what Peters found.

Peters described his interaction with the students at Chongshin. “Who’s going to India?” he asked the assembled seminarians. Lots of hands shot up. India is a popular spot for missionary work, and the South Korean students clearly were enthusiastic about the prospect of working there.

“Then I asked, ‘Who’s helping North Koreans?’ ” At this point in his story, Peters paused and looked around him. It was if he still had the prospective missionaries in his sight and was waiting to count the raised hands.

Finally, he answered his own question. “Nothing.”

In Chapter 3, we have another anecdote to file under “things we already knew” — in this case, that too many of those who represent us abroad are Nevilles Chamberlain without umbrellas to protect them from the disapproving scowls of the angels.  Listen to Evans Revere tell Kirkpatrick the story of some of the first North Korean defectors to show up at the doorstep of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and try to find a good reason not to loathe him:  

Revere went to the front entrance. After his questions in Mandarin also failed to elicit a response, something about the two men prompted him to try Korean, which he also spoke. The men responded with big smiles and a torrent of words. “I had a hard time at first placing their accent,” Revere said. “But then it dawned on me. I couldn’t quite believe it, but they were from North Korea.”

If the North Koreans had been soldiers or officials with important information to impart, Revere said, the United States might have been able to figure out a way to extract them from China. But they were just farmers and not worth diplomatic intervention, and they didn’t know enough to ask for political asylum.

Nor, for the sake of two just-farmers, did Evans see that it was “worth” prompting them to ask, although it was mighty sweet of him to give them a ride to the train station.  Do you suppose he stuffed a dollar bill in each of their shirt pockets and wished them the best of luck evading the ChiCom police all the way to Hong Kong?

Interesting observations about music in Chapter 3:

“No dictatorship can tolerate jazz,” he said at the time of that Cold War visit. “It is the first sign of a return to freedom.”

Well, maybe one day I’ll “get” jazz.  As to Richard Claydermann — I can go no further than, “To each his own.”  (On the other hand, the subversive messages that Prokofiev and Shostakovitch passed under the noses of Stalin’s censors have always been clear enough for me.)  Now this would be a hardship:

The North Korean regime also bans individual composers whose biographies it deems dangerous. Among them is Sergei Rachmaninoff, who wrote some of the twentieth century’s greatest piano music. Rachmaninoff is verboten because he fled his native Russia after the 1917 Revolution and settled in the United States.

Really?  But then, his music is openly sentimental, and sentiment is a dangerous thing to allow people to feel.  (Irony — I’m listening to Dvorak’s Ninth as I write this, and I don’t know of another classical piece that evokes freedom more.  Maybe I just associate it with the open, sagebrush-scented landscapes between the Black Hills and the Badlands I so often crossed in my childhood, but I doubt that’s all there is to it.)

(Update:  iTunes just shuffled to “Fanfare for the Common Man.”)


One of the best things about books like “Escape from North Korea” and “Nothing to Envy” is that for a few minutes, they make us think about North Korea as a humanitarian problem, and maybe even think about the diplomatic implications of dealing with people who place no value on human life.  I urge you to watch this extraordinarily powerful ten-minute speech by my good friend, Adrian Hong, in an event about Kirkpatrick’s book (she’s sitting to his right).  The speech struck a chord with The Washington Post‘s Max Fischer, which is itself a victory in a delaying action against those who sell out the North Korean people for a few promises that would surely be broken within a year.

After having had to correct his online review, Adam Cathcart swings at Hong and misses again, this time in the comment thread to Fischer’s post.  Cathcart begins by trying to associate Hong with “an ambitious agenda embracing the Arabic world,” falsely linking Hong to a completely unrelated entity that also happens to have “Pegasus” in its name.  He then twists Hong’s use of the word “preemptively” — in a context that Hong most likely meant in the diplomatic or humanitarian sense — to build a straw man (Cathcart:  “All these nascent rebels need is a small (to use Hong’s word) “preemptive’ push, the Korean Workers’ Party apparatus will tumble faster than you can say ‘nuclear Fuehrerbunker’”).

That’s a stretch.  In a lengthy piece in Foreign Policy, which Cathcart links, Hong advocates nothing more aggressive than broadcasting to the North Korean people, along with financial, diplomatic, and humanitarian pressure on the regime.  Hong mentions the possibility of an internal uprising, as plenty of other observers across the political spectrum have, but says, “[I]t is far better to have a coordinated, controlled landing, at the time of one’s choosing, instead of waiting for the worst to happen at any moment.”  If Hong has ever advocated what Cathcart obviously wants the Putinjugend trolls on that comment thread to infer, Cathcart ought to cite stronger evidence.

On the other hand, if Cathcart ever wants to challenge an actual advocate of a Libyan Solution for North Korea, he doesn’t need to imagine one, because I’m right here.  If there’s broad agreement that North Korea’s regime is inherently unstable, then the case of Syria shows what happens when you abdicate your nation’s interest in influencing the course of history.  As recently as 2010, no serious thinker believed a revolution was imminent in Libya or Syria.  Nor did anyone advocate sacrificing “engagement” with either regime to build relations with their disorganized and oppressed populations — populations that would soon produce militias, guerrilla armies, and a number of terrorists (in Syria, a growing number).  I certainly won’t defend the way this administration handled issues like embassy security or public communications in Libya, but its policy of building early alliances with the rebels while avoiding a ground war was sound, and stands a far better chance of producing a good outcome than our passive policy in Syria.


Dec. 6, 2012.  Here is a review, published in the Christian Science Monitor, and an interview with the author on National Public Radio.


Jan 2, 2013.  Last fall, the Hands-Off-North-Korea gang called for its smelling salts after the House passed the North Korea Refugee Adoption Act. The bill would have required the State Department to “develop a comprehensive strategy for facilitating the adoption of North Korean children by United States citizens” and, when possible, “assist in the family reunification of … orphaned North Korean children.” Some of these children are kkotjaebi, children who are orphaned and abandoned inside North Korea and managed to flee across the border on their own, but most are the children of North Korean mothers and Chinese men. These kids are conceived in circumstances that vary from consensual marriage to forcible rape, and sometimes in the gray area between the two. Nor do these children fit into either nationality, which is never a good thing in that part of Asia. We already know what North Korea does with racially impure babies. As Kirkpatrick relates:

The South Korean government debriefs every refugee who arrives in Seoul and reports its findings in an annual publication. Many of the refugees have spent time in North Korean prisons, and the section on pregnant women is a parade of horrors. The matter- of-fact, staccato language of the government report only heightens the atrocity:

“Gave birth to a baby . . . but they put vinyl cover [over the baby’s face] and left it to die, accusing the baby of [being] Chinese.”

“Gave birth to a baby on way to hard labor. Baby died.”

“Hospital aborted baby at seven-month pregnancy because she had lived with a Chinese man.”

“The agents forced her to run one hundred laps around a track because she had a Chinese seed in her. She collapsed after sixty laps and the baby was aborted.”

If China had not sent these women back to North Korea, their babies would merely face lifetimes lived in fear and without education, medical care, or a future. Because their mothers (and sometimes their fathers) are in China illegally, and because their fathers may not claim them, many of these kids become orphans. Chapter 5 of Escape from North Korea explains all of the different categories of North Korean and half-North Korean children whose lives and futures are scarred in very different ways by China’s cruelty to them.  I can’t summarize it better here, so I won’t try. Read the book. That one chapter is worth the price.

Kirkpatrick finds interesting subjects to help her tell her story and help you feel it on a human level, but on an academic level, the scale of this problem had already been documented exhaustively.  I’d recommend you begin with this extensive and detailed report from Human Rights WatchThe Christian Science Monitor, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and Refugees International, which in 2008 cited a South Korean NGO’s claim that there may be 10,000 “stateless children born to north Korean refugee women and Chinese men” who were born in the preceding decade and in need of assistance.  The evidence for the problem was never seriously in dispute until Congress finally got around to doing something about it this year — thereby causing hurt feelings at the Ministry for People’s Security and Foreign Policy in Focus – by trying to “facilitate the immediate care, family reunification, and, if necessary and appropriate, the adoption of any eligible North Korean children living outside North Korea as de jure or de facto stateless refugees.”

Someone named Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, in this fine representation of FPIF’s typical level of scholarship and class, elegantly translates “necessary and appropriate” as “baby scooping.” Dobbs’s own experience as an adoptee obviously wasn’t favorable, and while I don’t know what she went through as a child, it’s clear that something has driven her toward a bitterness that defies logic. For example, Dobbs thinks allowing Americans to adopt Korean children was “a tool used to expand U.S. neocolonial power under the guise of benevolence during the Cold War,” and that the new bill’s proponents are “naïve Hollywood stars and ambitious neoconservatives.” (It is widely known that these groups often rub elbows at bar mitzvahs and e-meter auditing parties. Presumably, Dobbs believes the European Parliament is also made up of neoconservatives and neocolonialists.) Without citing a single named source who appears to have direct knowledge of the facts, Dobbs denies that there is a problem of stateless orphans of North Korean parents in China, period. Also, we have always been at war with Eastasia. In the end, I’m left with more sorrow for Dobbs than anger.

Christine Hong doesn’t care for the bill, either. Remember her? Back in 2010, she bitterly denounced the visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea. You may also remember that this was pretty much the only U.S. response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean warship and killing of 46 sailors, for which Hong’s disapproval of which was lost in a cloud of nuance and angst. This can happen to folk who love peace more than you and me.

(Both Dobbs and Hong are members of Christine Ahn’s Korea Policy Institute.  You all remember Christine Ahn, right?)

In this long piece at 38 North, Hong calls the bill “an outdated portrait of on-the-ground conditions and distorted premises” based on “a dangerous fiction,” but later insists that China has solved this non-existent problem. Her sources for this? One unnamed aid worker of unknown affiliation and “[a] Yanji municipal social welfare officer with the People’s Policy Bureau. Seriously. (I also reached out to a well-known aid worker with up-to-date information about North Korean and half-North Korean kids in China. He insists that China most certainly has not solved the problem.)  And 38 North actually published this? Aside from it being disjointed, rambling, intellectually sloppy, poorly researched, and contrary to the overwhelming weight of credible evidence, I’m sure it’s an perfectly fine contribution to our discourse on this topic.

I should have also said “moot,” because this week, the Senate passed a version that bypasses Hong’s semantic argument that these children are “not North Korean, not refugees, and not orphans.” The Senate bill now includes “North Korean-origin children residing in other countries or children of one North Korean parent residing outside North Korea who are fleeing persecution or are living as de jure or de facto stateless persons.”  Happy now, Christine? Somehow, I doubt it.  Really, her biggest problem with this bill seems to be the way its advocates paint a “hellish picture” of North Korea’s expendable people and their children.

Naturally, Hong ends up arguing that the answer is more food aid to North Korea, or rather, to the regime that would have us believe hat droughts and floods have ruined 19 consecutive harvests, exclusively in North Korea, except in Pyongyang. (Hong blames North Korea’s hunger on politicians and activists supporting this bill, and of course, sanctions.) But deciding to give North Korea aid is one thing; getting North Korea to accept it is another. It rejected one offer of food aid in 2009, possibly over U.S. demands to monitor the distribution of the aid, and then expelled most American aid workers from private NGOs.  Although the U.S. government has regularly expressed that it was ready to resume food aid to North Korea, it took until last year to get North Korea to agree to take it, only to renege on an agreement that would have provided food aid in exchange for a moratorium on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. The U.S. also demanded essential requirements for monitoring to make sure it got to those who needed it most. The conditions were less restrictive than what the U.N. might have demanded in, say, Sudan or anywhere else, but Hong criticizes even those minimal safeguards as heavy-handed U.S. demands for “unprecedented access.”

Regardless of the terms on which North Korea would accept it free of charge, food is far below the nose cone of the Kim Dynasty’s hierarchy of fiscal priorities; the regime spent enough on just its latest one rocket launch to feed the entire country for a year.  It’s pretty difficult to escape the conclusion that the regime had decided to keep its people hungry (or rather, certain classes of them). Yet however inadvertently, Hong stumbles over a part of the truth — North Korean orphans in China are a small part of the humanitarian problem here. After all, very few North Korean orphans will ever make it that far. North Korean orphans are in China are just the biggest humanitarian problem we can begin to solve now, in some small way.

Of course, this lame duck session of Congress ends Thursday, which means that this bill could still die in a conference committee or on the President’s desk.  That means that the likes of Dobbs and Hong can go right back to paving other peoples’ road to Hell with their own intentions, which I’ll let you characterize as you see fit.  If you’re having difficulty making those judgments, then Escape from North Korea is a book you have to read.

UK production company making animated feature of Nothing to Envy.

Nothing to Envy was a terrific book – maybe the best book about North Korea I’ve read – but … animated?  Well, yes.  

From the production company:


Directed by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Andy Glynne, Nothing to Envy is a new animated feature length film about life inside one of the most impenetrable and brutal regimes in the world – North Korea. Told through the true stories of defectors, this film will combine testimony with rich and vivid animation to provide an unprecedented insight into the lives of ordinary North Koreans.


On October 7th Mosaic Films launched an eight-week online crowdfunding campaign to raise initial production funds for the film, and will work to engage a global audience in the issues affecting people in North Korea today. Contributors to the crowdfunding campaign will be acknowledged on the film’s online supporters wall ( and will have an option to select from a number of supporter ‘perks’ including exclusive behind the scenes access, a digital film download, or even a ticket to a red carpet screening. See more about our online campaign:


Nothing to Envy is based on the award-winning book of the same title written by LA Times journalist Barbara Demick ( In this book Demick provides an unparalleled insight into life of ordinary North Koreans and the hardships they face. It is a comprehensive account, revealing profound narratives of romantic relationships, interpersonal conflicts and stories of triumph and despair – all set against the backdrop of a brutal regime.


Mosaic Films director Andy Glynne ( has won numerous awards for his work in this genre (winning a BAFTA in 2010), and has directed and produced numerous animated documentaries, including the award-winning series Animated Minds, and the more recent Seeking Refuge for BBC. His experience in this genre, and his skill in storytelling, sets the stage for a unique and impressive film.


Nothing To Envy is supported by a number of international organizations including: Amnesty InternationalHRNK: The Committee for Human Rights in North KoreaChristian Solidarity WorldwideLiNK: The North Korea Human Rights CrisisNKnet: Network for North Korea Democracy and Human Rights and Daily NK.


During our initial launch we are seeking to create a buzz around the project and create as much hype as possible. This is where you and your university Amnesty International society becomes a vital part of this process. We are asking you to spread awareness of our project – tell your lecturers and fellow students, promote our twitter/blog/crowdfunding website, absolutely anything that may be able to help this cause.


Press Pack – Download Here:

Campaign Launch Video and Nothing to Envy Website:

Crowdfunding Campaign:

Follow the film on Facebook:

Follow the film on Twitter: (handle: @nothingtoenvy)

You can see sometimes-grouchy OFK reader Aidan Foster-Carter and Amnesty’s Rajiv Narayan at this launch event. Narayan is a regular presence at North Korea events, and notwithstanding all the mean things I say about the Human Rights Industry, it’s good to see his organization take an interest in this issue. Anyway, it looks interesting. Demick is one of the best reporters who has ever covered North Korea, so I don’t doubt that the film’s criticisms will be well documented, factual, and objective — and therefore powerful.

NKHR Film Festival, NKDB/US-Korea Institute Seminar

(seminar info updated below)
NKHR Film Festival logo

NKnet is hosting a North Korean Human Rights International Film Festival in Seoul on November 10-11, 2011.  Let this also serve as the official OFK announcement that NKnet has a new English-language website ready for your consumption.


The US-Korea Institute at SAIS and the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights are joining forces again for a seminar in Washington, DC, soon:

Building a Strategy on North Korean Human Rights: International Perspectives

with Keynote Address by Dr. Kim Moon-soo,
Governor, Gyeonggi Province, Republic of Korea

November 15, 2011
9 AM ““ 2:30 PM
Kenney Auditorium
1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036

The US-Korea Institute at SAIS and the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights will convene a seminar on November 15, 2011 that will explore both the status of the human rights and humanitarian challenges in North Korea and international efforts to address them. Featuring a keynote address by Dr. Kim Moon-soo, Governor of Gyeonggi Province in South Korea.

Agenda coming soon.

See link to RSVP.


Wow, looks like they will have an A-List of speakers. The page for the event now has a link to a PDF with the following:


8:30″“9:00 Registration

9:00″“9:15 Welcoming Remarks

9:15″“9:30 Opening Address
Han Duk-soo, Ambassador to the United States, Republic of Korea

9:30″“10:00 Keynote Address
Kim Moon-soo, Governor, Gyeonggi Province, Republic of Korea

10:15″“12:00 Session I: Status of Human Rights and Humanitarian Efforts in North Korea
Chair: Suzanne Scholte, Executive Director, North Korea Freedom Coalition

“¢   Lee Ja-eun, Researcher, Database Center for North Korean Human Rights
“¢   Lee Won-woong, Professor, Kwandong University
“¢   Randall Spadoni, Country Program Manager (North Korea), International Programs, World Vision

12:00″“12:30 Lunch

12:30 ““ 14:00   Session II: Developing a Human Rights Strategy
Chair: Jae H. Ku, Director, US-Korea Institute at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University

“¢   Gisella Gori, Senior Political Advisor, Political, Security and Development Section, European Union External Action
“¢   Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director, U.S. Committee on North Korean Human Rights
“¢   Ben Rogers, East Asia Team Leader, Christian Solidarity Worldwide
“¢   Kang Cheol-hwan, President, North Korean Strategy Center

14:00 ““ 14:15   Closing Remarks
Kim Sang-hun, Chairman, Board of Directors, Database Center for North Korean Human Rights

“Kimjongilia” to Air This Thursday at 7 p.m. on PBS

The film’s subject is North Korea’s political prison camps.

NKDB Seminar in DC Nov. 11, NKnet DC Conference Wrap-up

Looks like the Seoul-based NKHRs groups are making the rounds in Washington, D.C., this fall.  Next up:

North Korean Human Rights Advocacy: Making the Most of Scarce Data

Thursday, Nov 11, 2010 – 02:00 pm

Rome Auditorium, 1619 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036

Welcoming remarks by:
Jae H. Ku, Director, USKI
Kim Sang Hun, Chairman, NKDB

Panelists: Kim In Sung, Researcher and Lee Ja Eun, Senior Researcher, NKDB and
Paula Schriefer, Director of Advocacy, Freedom House

Thursday, November 11, 2010
2:00 ““ 4:00 PM
Rome Auditorium
Johns Hopkins University ““ SAIS
1619 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036

This seminar will examine the findings of the 2010 White Paper on North Korean Human Rights, published by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) and the Freedom in the World Index, published by Freedom House, and will discuss ways in which these different types of data can be used for human rights advocacy.

Co-sponsored by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS and Freedom House.

Visit the SAIS/US-Korea Institute event page to RSVP.

Here is what Joshua had to say about last year’s seminar.


I finally finished posting photos, presentation notes, and links to video (thank you, NED) from NKnet’s conference October 21st in DC.  So even if you couldn’t make it, there’s enough multimedia and lecture notes to cover almost everything you missed (save the networking).  Most of it’s here, but if you click around, you’ll find some more photos.


This 6-minute YouTube video definitely caught my attention yesterday.   Note, the title is “NORTH” – Animated Film about North Korea’s Prisoner Camps so I was expecting something animated, but the video is actually about a guy who’s hoping to make such a film.  Using art & culture is definitely a great way to reach a broader audience.  Btw, looks like they’re working with No Fence, an awesome Japanese group.

Toronto: 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees; Seoul: Beautiful Dream Concert

promo posters for 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees

On August 19-22 Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul is partnering with this year’s host HanVoice in Toronto for their 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees.  This will be the first time the conference has been held in North America; to date the ICNKHRR has been in Seoul (3x), Tokyo, Prague, Warsaw, Bergen (Norway), London, and Melbourne.

The main session this year is Saturday, August 21st, from 9 – 6.  Events open to the public also include an art exhibition and concert Thursday, and movie screenings of Kimjongilia (followed by a Q&A session with the director) and The Red Chapel Friday evening.

All events are free, though for the main conference Saturday they’re asking that people register in advance since they’re providing free lunch and a translation device.

Here is the schedule on Saturday:

@ The Isabel Bader Theatre (U of T)

08:30 Registration

09:30 Opening Session

Opening Remarks
Benjamin H. Yoon, Founder & Chairman, Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

Welcoming Speeches
- Randall Baran-Chong, Chair ““ 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees , HanVoice, Canada
- Carl Gershman President, National Endowment for Democracy, USA

Congratulatory Remarks
- Michaelle Jean (Written), Governor General of Canada

- Hon. Jason Kenny (Written), Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, Canada

- Dalton McGuinty (Written), Premier of Ontario, Canada

- Heidi Hautala, Chairperson of Sub-committee on Human Rights to the EU Parliament

(to be confirmed)

Keynote Speech
Hon. Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada (To be confirmed)

Special Remarks
Barry Devolin, Member of Parliament, Canada

10:30 Session 1: Human Rights in North Korea between Obstacles & Opportunity

Pervasive State of Fear in the Country
Man-ho Heo, Professor, Kyungpook National University, ROK

Changing Perception of North Korean Population
Katy Kongdan Oh Hassig, Researcher, Institute for Defense Analysis, US

Testimony of NK defector
Young Cheol Kim, Former Officer at Ministry of people’s Safety in the DPRK, Escaped and Entered South Korea in February of 2008

Q & A

12:30 Lunch

13:30 Session 2: Experience of North Korean Refugees in Transit & Asylum Countries

Moderator: Dr. Sun-Young Park, MP, Liberty Forward Party, ROK

Legal Grounds for Protection of North Korean refugees
Roberta Cohen
, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution, US

Human Trafficking: Human Rights Situation of North Korean Refugee Women in China
Won-Woong Lee, Professor, Social Welfare Studies, Kwandong University, ROK

Children from Nowhere: Stateless Children in China
Kay Seok, Human Rights Watch

Testimony of NK Refugee
Mi-Ran Kim, Hair Dresser in the DPRK, Escaped from the country on 3rd of April, 2007 and entered South Korea in March of 2008

Resettlement Process & Experiences of countries accepting North Korean refugees: issues with resettlement and integration in final destination
- South Korea: Yoon-Sook Park, Professor at World Cyber University, ROK
- Canada: Younglee Ha, Executive Director, Korean Canadian Womens’ Association
Canada: Young-Lee Ha, Executive Director, Korean Canadian Women’s Association, Canada
- US: Hannah Song, President, Liberty in North Korea (LiNK)
- Japan: Kate Nielsen, Director of International Relations,  Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, Japan

Q & A

16:00 Break

16:15 Session 3: Strategies for the Improvement of Human Rights in North Korea and Protection of Refugees

Moderator: Hon. Barry Devolin, Member of Parliament, Canada

Maintaining the Momentum and Commitment of the International Society
- Pam Shime, Researcher, Global Advocacy & Leadership Institute
- Joanna Hosaniak, Head of International Campaign & Cooperation, Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, ROK
- Jack Kim, Executive Director, HanVoice
- Kate Nielsen, Director of International Relations, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, Japan

- N.C. Heikin, Director of Documentary Film, “Kinjongilia(2009)”, US

Q & A

Closing Cermonies

The Isabel Bader Theatre is located at 93 Charles St. West  (Closest TTC Station ““ Museum):

If anyone is planning on driving to the conference from the Milwaukee/Chicago area, please drop me a line.  If I can go, I’d certainly help with gas and driving duties.


2010 Beautiful Dream Concert poster

Second, this must be a pretty busy season in the Citizens’ Alliance events department — tomorrow (Sunday) in Seoul is their annual Beautiful Dream Concert to raise money for young North Koreans who’ve resettled in the South.  It will be at 4pm at Korea University.  Sounds like a good way to observe Liberation Day, August 15th:


There are youth defectors all around you that traveled a long and perilous road to reach a place where their dreams could flourish. Yet, many experience difficulties in adjusting to life here due to differences in culture, disparities in education levels, lack of understanding by fellow professors and students, and other problems regarding their families and their lives. The need for our concern and our help is exigent to insure that their budding hopes and dreams are not rooted out by the cold indifference of society. As a result, we are holding the Beautiful Dream Concert 2010 to raise contributions to aid youth refugees. We would be deeply grateful if you would join us in our effort to protect the bright future of youth defectors.

August 15th 2010 (Sun) 4:00 pm
Korea University Inchon Memorial Hall

Hosted by:  GSIS of Korean University, Ewha Institute of Unification Studies
Organized by: Beautiful Mind Charity, Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights


Beautiful Harmony Orchestra ““ Silk Road Foundation
Poem by Dong-Ju Yoon on Orchestral Music and Sopranos -Jin-Won Lee
Cavatina- S. Myers
Arirang rhapsody -Ji-Soo Lee

Piano Trio ““ Pianist Joo Young Kim =, Violinist Ji-Hoon Park , Cellist Il-Hwan Bai
Hungarian Dances No.1 – J. Brahms
Otono Porteno from Four Season in Buenos Aires – A. Piazzolla

Visually Impaired Clarinetist Sang Jae Lee
Theme from Schindler’s list – J. Williams
It ain’t necessarily so from Opera – G. Gershwin

[Kyeong-min Kim Introduction Slideshow]
Cerebral Palsy Pianist Kyeong-min Kim
Piano Sonata no.14 op.27-2 c# min. 1st mov. – L. V. Beethoven
Yearning – Kyeong-min Kim

Baritone Kyoo-Seok Lee
Largo al factotum della citta from Opera – G. A. Rossini

Soprano Mihyun Kho
Il bacio> – Arditi

Soprano Mihyun Kho &   Baritone Kyoo-Seok Lee
All I ask of you from Musical – A. L. Weber

Nowon Voll Ensemble
Radetzky March – Johann Strauss Sr.

Nowon Voll Ensemble & North-South Korean Youth Choir Dream Plus
Magic Castle – Kwang-Jin Kim
To the Country of Hope – Jae-Myoung Hyun

# There will be an event during the concert to donate funds aiding youth defectors.
# The donations falls under public interest contributions under Corporate Tax law and   will
be eligible for tax-free benefits at the end of the year.

# There will be pizza served starting at 6 pm* thanks to the generous donations of Papa John’s Korea.
(First 400 guests)

[*NOTE: It appears the pizza party has been changed to 3pm if I'm reading this update right. -DB]

Invitation Tickets: Free.
Performance and Ticketing inquiries ã…£
Yeon Jung Hong   02-723-1672, 2671

Nothing to Offer, by Glyn Ford

Glyn Ford was a socialist member of the European Parliament until, under even its fringe-friendly rules, he lost his seat by placing fifth in the EP elections. Ford, an early defender of North Korea’s right to possess nuclear weapons, now finds himself with one less demand on his time, and so he reviews Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy. I’m not sure whether Ford himself or the Tribune Magazine is responsible for the headline under which his review is published: “North Korea: Grim, but that’s no reason to make things up.” Dig into the accusation, however, and the substance of the charge of “making things up” comes down to this.

1. Ford claims that some completely different person, also a journalist, made up a story about her cell phone being confiscated at the airport.

2. Demick “travels with” Nick Eberstadt by citing him in her acknowledgments, and Eberstadt is (hiss!) a neocon, meaning, any foreign policy thinker to the right of Jimmy Carter and to the left of (choose one) Joachim Von Ribbentrop or Pat Buchanan. Ford might also have pointed out that on Pages 295-296, Demick also cites such liberal sources as Good Friends, former Ambassador Donald Gregg, Tony Banbury of the World Food Program, Katharina Zellweger of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, lefty columnist Nicholas Von Hoffman, classical liberal and former Amnesty Exec Director David Hawk, and Leonid Petrov. She also thanks Scott Snyder, Bradley Martin, and Michael Breen, all relative moderates. If there’s any imbalance in the ideological orientation of Demick’s sources, it may be that people like Christine Ahn and Glyn Ford have lacked the intellectual means and will, respectively, to make much of a scholarly impact on this topic.

I wish Ford were equally forthright about just who he “is traveling with” — to borrow his phrase — by disclosing the frequency with which he is cited affectionately by the Korea Central News Agency, something the North Korean regime reserves for its favored stooges. If there is any relevance in Ford’s selective citation to Demick’s acknowledgment of Eberstadt, I find far more weight in KCNA’s frequent use of Ford as a propaganda prop.

3. Demick relates that one of her subjects witnessed the selektion of pregnant detainees, which the subject presumed preceded the forced abortion of their babies. Ford reproduces only the text in bold:

The guards strip-searched the new arrivals, separating those who obviously pregnant and sending them off for abortions, no matter how advanced the pregnancy. The assumption was that the babies’ fathers were Chinese.

I could quibble that Ford takes this quotation out of context on several levels. First, his truncation of Demick’s sentence could cause a reader to believe that “obviously” modifies “sending” rather than “pregnant.” Judge for yourself, but I don’t believe the passage even implies that the subject witnessed a forced abortion, so Ford is reading into the passage a deception that isn’t there. The greater problem of context and interpretation arises from the way Demick tells her story, using the narrative of her subjects as a vehicle to discuss the findings of scholarly researched and published reports. There might be fair criticisms of that approach, but Ford doesn’t offer them. Plenty of readers might be content to read those narrations alone; they’re readable, interesting, and incorporate rational inferences drawn from the knowable facts. For those inclined to read (or pick at) Demick’s book for scholarly research or criticism, she offers numerous footnotes for citations and clarifications, which Ford duly finds.

So who is deceiving who here? Ford at least implies that the claims of forced abortion are nonsense. They might be — it’s not as if North Korea allows Red Cross inspections — but that’s not what the available evidence suggests now. Yoonok Chang’s 2006 survey of 1,300 North Korea refugees (52% of them women) found that fully 5% of North Korean refugees reported personally witnessing “forced abortions or infanticide performed on women who were pregnant when repatriated from China to North Korea and suspected of carrying binational children” (see footnote 14). Or we could examine this study, or David Hawk’s research from 2003, among others. A reasonable reader would conclude that this evidence is less than conclusive to prove the charge but more than enough for Glyn Ford and others with Kim Jong Il’s ear to demand transparency and an explanation. Ford’s review is yet another lost opportunity to do this. Instead, he does what North Korea’s apologists always do: he rests on argumentum ad ignorantium.

There are other problems, too. Ford states that the subjects of Demick’s book left North Korea for “non-ideological” reasons, which is flat wrong (schoolgirl howler, indeed; what book was he reading?). Every one of the stories in “Nothing to Envy” represents a different path toward political disillusionment. For some, the decision to break with the system came only after they could see, for example, that Chinese dogs eat better than North Korean doctors (page 257). Mi-Ran and her family decided to go to South Korea after their father, a South Korean POW, died (page 206), but scarcely dared to confront their own intentions at first. Kim Hyuck, on his release from Camp 12, “decided that his only chance was to make a break for South Korea.” (Page 260) Jung-San secretly listened to foreign broadcasts, came to loathe the system and decide to flee (pages 195-97), and “spent three years saving money for his escape,” (page 275) with the specific purpose of defecting to the South via a consulate in China. I could go on. Ford then rakes up the ugly business of human trafficking across the Chinese border, a business into which North Koreans presumably wouldn’t place themselves if their homeland wasn’t a hell on earth and China wasn’t a flagrant violator of the Refugee Convention. I saw no other point in this than portraying the refugees themselves to be whores, pimps, and low-lifes, and to quote Ford directly, “fools.”

Ford’s contempt for the refugees themselves contends to be the most repulsive thing he writes, but there is also this:

Certainly the North Koreans bear some responsibility for the famine, yet there is no mention of the fact that the CIA were well aware of what was happening and said nothing, maintaining a silence even when Pyongyang appealed for assistance in 1996 to an initially sceptical (sic) world. And there is lots more where that comes from.

Did he really say some?

Now that is an odd construct: holding the CIA responsible for a famine in the Earth’s great intelligence Black Hole, rather than on the world’s most secretive and controlling regime, one that could have found sufficient resources to import food had its priorities not been distracted by shopping sprees for aluminum tubing, MiG’s, and a pizza chef for Kim Jong Il. I will leave it to Andrew Natsios to make the case that North Korea blocked access and monitoring by aid workers, and diverted food aid from neediest people and regions to those that were the most politically favored. Contrary to Ford’s allegation, Natsios argues there was considerable and prolonged debate within the U.S. government about the food situation in North Korea. There still is, for that matter. North Korea itself has never allowed sufficient access and transparency to allow for a reliable nutritional survey.

Ford’s final non-sequitur worth mentioning is to echo North Korea’s demand for a peace treaty, a bit of nonsense I’ve already dealt with here and here, but which Ford really ought to put into the context of North Korea’s recent unilateral renunciation of the 1953 Armistice Agreement.

In the end, you have to at least credit Glyn Ford for having brass to publish his review in the place with libel laws like Britain’s. His readers would have been better served by more careful reading, and more honest writing.

N.Y. Times (Sort of) Reviews “Kimjongilia”

The reviewer, Mike Hale, dismisses the documentary “Kimjongilia” as the result of “a morbid obsession with Mr. Kim and the hellish country he oversees, shared by escaped North Koreans and Western filmmakers,” which is an attack on the film’s choice of subject matter, not its artistic merit. Hale begins his review, in other words, wishing that filmmakers would pay as little attention to this subject matter as the New York Times’s news bureaus and its editorial board have. Any judgment of the film’s quality is strictly an afterthought.

Speaking as an authority on this particular morbid obsession, it’s a sure thing that no one will ever diagnose the Times with it. The Times has distinguished itself among major U.S. newspapers for a nearly complete absence of reporting about North Korea’s death camps, famines, or the misery Kim Jong Il has inflicted on his subjects. Its North Korea coverage is easily the worst of all major U.S. newspapers. Worse than USA Today? Yes, even worse than that.

I haven’t actually seen “Kimjongilia” myself, so I won’t join the argument about the film’s artistic merits. I’ll simply observe that this very brief review hardly does that much, although its opening attack on the film’s choice of a topic reveals volumes about the reviewer’s political bias. Other reviews — not to mention the comments to Hale’s review — reached the opposite conclusion. These views, and the very fact of the film’s selection for Sundance, suggest that you might reach a different conclusion if you see “Kimjongilia” for yourself.